For the first time ever, the four Victoria Crosses (VC) awarded to members of the Tank Corps in World War One will be brought together and put on display.
The Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset, has managed to secure them all and will unveil them on Monday August 6 in a special exhibition.
The museum owns one of the VCs which was awarded to Cecil Sewell and Lord Ashcroft is loaning the one awarded to Richard West.
The family of Richard Wain loaned the museum his VC last year and following an appeal, the final VC awarded to Clement Robertson has also been secured.
The VC is the highest award for gallantry and the stories of how the tank men won them are staggering as they were all awarded posthumously.
Clement Robertson was the first Tank Corps officer to be awarded a VC, and it was for his heroics at Passchendale on October 4, 1917. Prior to an advance, he spent three days in no-man’s-land marking out the routes for his tanks to follow – all under heavy fire.
On the day, even with the routes taped out he thought the tanks might still lose their way and get bogged down. So he decided to lead them on foot, refusing to take cover from the shell and bullet fire. As the tanks continued forward Robertson was shot and killed, but his self-sacrifice led to a successful attack. He was 26.
Captain Richard Wain was awarded the VC following his heroics at the Battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917. During the battle, he was seriously injured when his tank was hit, but he shunned a stretcher, climbed out with a Lewis gun and attacked the enemy.
He then captured a strong point, took prisoners and allowed the infantry to advance. He continued shooting at the retreating Germans until he received a fatal shot to the head. He was 20.
David Willey, curator of the museum, said: “Having all four VCs together a century after they were awarded is a great moment for us. They have never been together before.
“Of course it wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance and generosity of Lord Ashcroft and the families of the recipients. As well as the VCs, we will be displaying the men’s other medals and descriptions of what they did and photographs of them” Wiley added.
All of the recipients received their VCs posthumously and the stories of their bravery are humbling and inspirational. Tanks were new, they were only introduced in September 1916, and we can easily forget they were designed to save British lives.
Speaking more of the museum Wiley shared, “While we have the finest collection of tanks in the world, it is always the stories of the men who fought in them that captures the imagination of our audience – and here are four of the best.”
The exhibition runs from Monday August 6 until November 11.
During the same week – on Wednesday 8 August – The Tank Museum will be commemorating the centenary of the Battle of Amiens, considered to be the beginning of the end of the war.